Visitor numbers to Ireland are increasing every year. 2017 saw ten-million visitors to our shores an increase of 3.6% over the previous year. But have you ever wondered just what these visitors to Ireland think of the place and of the Irish? Well, here at Ireland Before You Die, we do. So we tasked journalist Ger Leddin to go among them and find out just what it is that shocks them on arriving on Paddy’s green shamrock shore.
I remember as a young man taking my first trip outside of Ireland — to London. I was a mere twenty-one and couldn’t believe how busy the pubs in the West-End of the city were at lunchtime with groups of friends sipping pints then heading back to work for the afternoon. Then an Irish friend of mine who worked in London explained to me; that as the city was so vast and travelling to meet friends for a beer at night involved numerous tube, bus and train transfers, it was commonplace to meet up for a pint and a natter at lunch-hour. A bit weird and strange for this Paddy but that’s how they do it over there and every visitor to a different country will find some aspects of the culture strange and unique. But anyway what is it that we Irish do that the visitor to Ireland thinks a bit strange and special?
1. We’ve Grown Up
The first thing you’ll notice when you talk to visitors is that many of them have been influenced by the Hollywood portrayal of the Irish. You Know the Quiet-Man kind of guy and the Maureen O’Hara look-alike cailín. Honestly, some visitors expect us to have just stepped out of a John Ford movie or a John Hinde postcard, fresh from spending the day cutting turf on the bog along with Neddy the donkey.
Most are actually shocked when they speak to us and realise that the population of Paddies these days are actually among the best-educated people in the world. And our education system — probably one of the only things successive governments have got right — is recognised as being one of the best in the world. Well, Holy God, could you credit that?
2. We Drive Along — on the wrong side — the Narrowest Roads In The World
Yeah seriously, visitors to Ireland — especially Americans — have seizures when they see the width of our county roads. They arrive at our fairly modern airports and pick-up their tiny rental car. Ok, they get over the fact that some Paddy has put the steering wheel on the wrong side and as they drive along the initial motorway system, there’s plenty of signage to remind them to drive on the left so they’re grand.
However, the problem is that within a few miles of their guest house or hotel, they find themselves on these narrow little back-roads bouncing and weaving along. Suddenly there’s no left or right only the centre and a mad fifteen-year-old Irish farmer’s son is barrelling along at them in a great big tractor, playing chicken as he saves the last of the hay. Yeah, that kind-off upsets them a tiny bit.
3. We are overly polite and it scares them at first
You have to understand that most visitors to our shores especially those from the bigger American and English cities are trained as children to avoid eye-contact with strangers. They simply can’t get used to our habit of saying hello to everyone we met on the street; actually, the population of Ireland is so tiny we probably know half the people that we casually pass and salute.
This doesn’t really happen in Paris, New York or London. There if you make eye contact and engage in conversation with a stranger, you’ll find them quickly averting their gaze, increasing the volume on their mp3 device and looking around for the nearest anti-terrorist cops.
4. We Don’t Hate Each Other
On a more serious — for us that is — note, believe it or not, many tourists think that crossing the border, either going north or south, means you’re taking your life in your hands. I have talked to quite a few visitors while preparing this article and I’ve been amazed at how many have never heard of the Good Friday Agreement or the fact that the people of all persuasions and political beliefs have been getting on famously for decades now. It’s hard to explain to them that the only danger or no-go zones in the country are when Kilkenny play Tipp in the hurling.
5. How Inexpensive It Is To Get And Stay Here
This is one fact which may also shock those of us living in Ireland but visitors to the country find their visit to be very inexpensive.
Ireland is blessed with being well served by transatlantic airlines and a multitude of low-cost carriers have made the country very accessible. A strong dollar coupled with the advantages of a common euro has kept our prices very competitive. Unfortunately, there has been a drop in visitors to Ireland from Britain, which fell by 5% in 2017 this mainly due to the declining value of sterling.
In fairness to Fáilte Ireland, they are working with businesses to diversify and gear their business towards other markets which they expect to expand and also expect to grow stronger – Europe and the US obviously but also emerging markets like China. But all this aside, the tourists to Ireland that I spoke to, find Ireland shockingly inexpensive, which is to our credit.
6. The Cursing
Yep, you’ve guessed it; the average visitor to Ireland is a bit shocked at the way in which we seem to add a small, little swear word or two into each and every sentence. You see, across the Atlantic or even in Europe they simply don’t use swear words like we do.
Maybe it’s the fact that whether we know it or not we are obviously influenced by what was our traditional usage of Gaelic and the mixed-up syntax that we now seem to be lumbered with. It’s like as if, our ancient Irish language is trapped somewhere in our brains and tries constantly to escape while we try to divert it by throwing in the odd swear word.
However, once they get used to the fact that we don’t mean any great harm, after a day or two they are fecking and blinding like pure natives. Well, at least that’s what they tell me.
7. Potatoes Served With Potatoes
Most of the visitors that I’ve spoken to honestly thought that the only food served in Ireland was Irish stew and potatoes. They were in open-mouthed shock at the variety of food to be found on the menus of our better bars and restaurants.
Visitors express delight at the freshness of our seafood, the richness of our meats and all this at a reasonable price. I suppose in a way we should be proud and promote the country as a gastronomic experience. But easy on the spuds.
8. The Music and the Craic
They just can’t get over it. Yes, they have their Irish bars in Boston, New York and Sydney, in fact, all over the world, but let’s face it, these are not the real thing, are they?
All visitors simply can’t get over the fact that you can walk into the smallest bar in the tiniest village in Ireland on any night of the week and you’ll probably find a sing-song in full session. They just love it.
9. The History and Heritage of the Place
When you think of it the Founding Fathers of America really only got their act together a little over two-hundred years ago, most Americans look at the number of ruined castles and towers not to mention Neolithic remains which seem to dot Ireland as commonly as bus-stops, in amazement. It’s probably quite a shock to them when every second townland has a Norman ruin somewhere or other, probably now being used as a cow or bicycle shed.
10. How Friendly We Are
This may sound a bit of the auld cliché, but it’s the one thing all visitors to Ireland seem to remark on. Now, to those of us who live on the island, it might seem strange, but there might be something in it worth considering. It’s not like our visitors come from the most unfriendly nations on earth but we do seem to go out of our way to be friendly to the visitor. Any visitor I’ve spoken to has remarked on the smiling friendly Irish people that they’ve met and who have gone out of their way to help them. It’s something that we should be proud of and keep it up.
Anyway, that’s what they think of us and in all fairness, it’s not all bad.